Saturday, August 25, 2007

on buying lotto tickets

since i decided i wanted to do this project, i started looking for places to buy lotto tickets. it can be surprisingly difficult finding a place to buy. or sometimes, you're in a place, like the HEB down the street, and in order to buy a ticket, you have to go to a separate queue from the checkout, where they have the western union and prepaid cell phones.

the lottery is by design laden with class problems. in many places, it is the only form of sanctioned gambling, because it funds the state. here in texas, there are billboards touting that the texas lotteries have supplied $8 billion to texas schools. but the problem is that it is really another way to drain the poor and working class. i see it as similar to tobacco tax, where government basically punishes people for something socially unacceptable or wrong about them--being addicted to a government subsidized substance and being poor or in need of money.

i bought a ticket yesterday on the way home from work. the place i went to is on the east side, where the student apartments converge with black and latino communities that are slowly being pushed out of the city. they didn't have a lottery sign out front, but the mosaic of signs hocking generic cigarette prices by the carton, phone cards, snuff, and western union services made me strongly suspect i would be able to find lotto tix.

being a friday, the moment i stepped in the store, there was a long line by the check cashing counter. everyone in line was chicano, no doubt many of them day laborers working for nearby construction, landscaping, and cleaning companies. covering the store's street sign read a huge handpainted banner declaring, "cambio 1%." remembering that the liquor store where i once worked charged 7% in goods for check cashing, it was no wonder this store was so popular. as i took in all the signs, i noticed the tell-tale case of scratch-off roles next to the register, and just as i was about to ask the clerk whether they sold mega million tickets, he handed the man before me at the counter three sheets of mega millions numbers saying, "good luck."

the clerk was a well-dressed south asian man. he took the scan-tron form in my hand, put it through the lotto machine and gave me a ticket. as i handed him my dollar, i asked for my form back, and he defensively told me that since it had been folded, he figured i didn't need it anymore and tore it up. ah well.

but this is a scene that happens everywhere. stores run by immigrants, acting as places for other immigrants and people of color to provide much-needed resources. but these resources are also flawed and wrought with the manipulative signs of late capitalism: to get your paycheck, you need to give up 1% of it; to have a crack at being rich, you have to pay money that is really more like throwing it away; to support your family, you need to give up another percentage to use western union; to talk to them, you have to buy a phone card.

the only people who regularly use these stores are working class, immigrants, and the desperately poor. i suppose every once in a while an artist like me trying to play the lotto goes in, but then again, i'm now in manual labor, with co-workers who cash their checks at similar places every friday. i'm a part of this culture, now, yet in the position of observer.

i can't help but dwell on the injustice while also feeling a twinge of class guilt when i buy these tickets. i'm amazed that exploring my dreams through imagined riches also bring me back to a certain reality and adjusted perspective.

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